I’ve been using Linux now for 20 years. I was one of those, back in the old days, willing to jump ship on Windows, even though the alternative was, at times, an incredibly frustrating challenge. But then, I happen to also be one of those who loves a good challenge.
I remember well, those early moments have having to write scripts just to keep a modem persistently connected. I remember my first steps with installing from source (and the ensuing “dependency hell”).
To some, those were the good ol’ days; when Linux was a platform that would challenge your skills on a day-to- day basis, thereby separating the l33t from the n00b. To be honest, that was a perfectly acceptable stance to take back then. Linux was challenging because it was new and had only small contingency of people working on the platform. Red Hat Linux existed, but it was a desktop distribution without a huge multi-million dollar business behind it. Ubuntu didn’t exist, nor did any user-friendly flavor of the open source operating system. In fact, I remember going to CompUSA, buying Red Hat Linux 5.0 (for something like $60), taking it home and doing my best to install it without help. There was no support line to call and your best bet for help was a BBS or a local Linux User Group (LUG).
Remember those days? With fond recollection?
A few days ago I was reading a post centered around one of the most widely-asked questions in all of Linux-dom. Said question was, “What’s the easiest Linux distro for a newbie?” That is a very legitimate question. One I get asked almost daily. But it wasn’t the asking of the question that brings me to my point, it was a common thread in the comments that brought me to my conclusion.
Before I state said conclusion, let’s get a few things out of the way first.
The old arguments no longer hold true
Not five years ago, had you said to me, “The reason Linux has no market share is because there are no viable software options for business”, I would have accepted that as truth. After all, an overwhelming majority of business users depended upon the desktop version of MS Office and LibreOffice simply would not do.
That was five years ago. Today, thanks to the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS), that argument barely holds water. We now have Google Docs and Office 365, both of which can be used, without issue, on the Linux platform. In fact, at this point in the evolution of computer usage, most everything can be done via a web browser.
Another old argument was that Linux didn’t support new hardware. Burn an ISO of Ubuntu 16.10 and see how quickly that argument fails. It has been years since I’ve seen Linux fail to detect hardware. Thanks, in part, to Steam (but mostly the tireless work of the kernel developers), Linux hardware support has skyrocketed over the last few years. But if you are concerned about hardware support, all you have to do is burn an ISO of a live distribution and boot it up. You’ll find out right away if your hardware is supported. The live distribution has taken all of the guessing out of the equation. No more exhaustive questioning whether X is supported by Y distribution. The live distro lets you know, right away.
So where does that leave us?
With one rather persistent problem.
Back to the comments from that posted question. The original poster asked a simple, innocent question, “What’s the easiest Linux distro for a newbie?” It was reading the responses to that question that caused me to draw my conclusion. Said responses ran the following gamut:
“Linux isn’t for newbies.”
“Linux is supposed to be challenging.”
“Go back to Windows.”
“If you have to ask, Linux isn’t for you.”
“User-friendly Linux has a name…Apple.”
I get it, comment sections tend to be rife with such statements. But in this case, it helped to highlight a problem that should be addressed. This attitude that Linux should be made for advanced users is not only damning, it is one that prevents the platform from gaining market share. A possible new user comes to such a forum, is met with that kind of response, and turns away — right back to the operating system from whence they came.
Let me say this very clearly. Like any good platform, Linux needs to be easily adopted; by individual users, by small businesses, by corporations. It could not be more simple. Without new users, Linux will never grow. Continue preaching to an already converted choir and your base remains the same. Never simplify and only the advanced will make use of the platform.
Advanced users are not the majority.
At the beginning of 2017, I predicted that Linux would finally break the 5% market share barrier. This cannot happen if the overriding attitude in the Linux community is, “If you have to ask, Linux isn’t for you.” In fact, this will not happen when those who can offer to help don’t. Once upon a time it was okay to say RTFM to a new user. Now, not so much. Why? Because in the land of Linux, the M in RTFM isn’t always easy to find. And to tell a new user to read a man page is like telling someone who isn’t a car mechanic to grab a Chilton DIY manual and figure the problem out. New users don’t function that way; they often need a bit more hand-holding in the beginning. If the Linux-informed take the time to do the hand-holding, those new users will soon become advanced users.
Back in my early days I might well have given up on Linux, had it not been for the patience and kindness of one particular guru who took me under his wing. He saw someone who had the desire to make the permanent switch to Linux and made sure the necessary skills fell into place. Without him, I’d probably have gone back to Windows. That was, as I mentioned, during a period where Linux was significantly more challenging. Today, however, user-friendly Linux exists in the form of any number of distributions. And to those spouting off that Linux should only be used by the advanced and n00bs need not apply, I say step aside.
Linux is a remarkable platform that can do anything the competition can — even attract new users. But as long as there are those refusing to accept a flood of n00bs into the fold, those new users will remain at arm’s length.